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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lawsuit over Tennessee’s Treatment of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Dismissed

NASHVILLE, TENN. - Sept. 9, 2017 - A judge on Friday dismissed a longstanding lawsuit over Tennessee’s treatment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ending federal oversight of state programs.

Gov. Bill Haslam lauded the dismissal of the case by Judge Waverly Crenshaw of Federal District Court. Governor Haslam said Tennessee has “fundamentally changed the way we serve some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The Justice Department and the People First of Tennessee sued over conditions at three state facilities: Clover Bottom Developmental Center in Nashville; Greene Valley Developmental Center in Greeneville; and Nat T. Winston Developmental Center in Bolivar. A separate lawsuit concerning the Arlington Developmental Center was dismissed in 2013.

All four developmental centers have since been closed, with the state directing thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to home- and community-based care.

The state closed the 90-year-old Clover Bottom Developmental Center late in 2015. At its peak in the 1960s, it housed 1,500 people.

That’s when Debra K. Payne, now the commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, first worked at the facility as a 14-year-old volunteer.

“To walk in the halls and to see countless people in the institutions lined up against the walls, nothing to do all day,” Ms. Payne said of her experience in 1968. “Staff were at a minimum at that time. They were desperately trying to feed people, keep them clean.

“That was the minimum of care then,” she said. “It is so different today.”

The Haslam administration estimates that it has cost the state more than $300 million to make the changes needed to bring the court supervision of disabilities programs in Tennessee to an end.

The Justice Department praised the cooperation of state officials and advocates in resolving the case.

“Together, we have pursued this case to enforce the important rights of people with disabilities and to treat these individuals with dignity,” John M. Gore, an assistant attorney general, said in a release.

New York Times article on Sept. 9, 2017

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